Readers could be forgiven for thinking that 1st April – like the Spring daffodils – had arrived early this year with a splash by the Sunday Express – “EU declares war on drivers: UK motorists should pay congestion charge to drive in every town say Brussels climate change meddlers“. The so-called “exclusive” was the catalyst for other similarly misleading headlines and distortions of the facts in The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and The Scotsman.
The European Union has no power to force local authorities to implement congestion charges or bin collection fees.
Both remain a matter for national and regional authorities. The European Union only has the powers delegated to it by Member States in the EU Treaties.
Behind the headlines
The claims motorists should pay for driving in towns and bin taxes stem from a “Handbook on the Europe 2020 strategy for cities and regions” published by the Committee of the Regions (CoR) in 2012. The newspapers fail to mention that the document is several years old. They also fail to point out that the CoR is a purely advisory body with no legislative powers, made up of elected local and regional representatives. The Express describes it as “the European Commission’s Committee of the Regions”, which it is not. It is a separate institution.
The document does not suggest that all local authorities should introduce charging schemes. It merely cites some examples of policies that are consistent with environmental and economic goals, such as those set out in the Europe 2020 strategy. This is the EU’s broad strategy to help create jobs and boost growth after the financial crisis, in a smart and sustainable way. It was agreed by all EU Member States, including the UK.
It would seem that the Mayor of London agrees that congestion charging can in the right circumstances be a useful tool, as he operates perhaps the most famous congestion charging scheme in the world. But this is up to him. Not to the EU and still less to the CoR.
Neither the Commission nor the CoR nor any of the UK’s representatives on the CoR seems to have been approached for comment before the Express published this story, which amounts to deceiving readers, either through negligence or deliberately.
That other newspapers picked it up without checking it properly means that their readers too have been seriously misled at a time when people deserve accurate information about EU matters.